When Something is Not Your Problem: Revisiting the Good Samaritan

The good Samaritan story is so famous that I really don’t need to repeat it.  A w file back, I saw a sign (from the Facebook page Blue Street Journal) that says, “Privilege is a problem when you don’t think something is a problem because it is a not problem to you PERSONALLY.”   Nothing comes clearer than when I point out the problem of racism (let’s call it a blind spot) in the rhetoric of a white evangelical leader and immediately I get called a racist for pointing that part out.


I read the funny sign in conjunction with a blog that says the Asian-Americans overreacted against the Deadly Viper book, a book Zondervan yanked due to racist stereotype.  The same blogger who is obviously white congratulates the writer Mike Foster for moving on from that drama to launch a successful speaking circuit on that exact topic, not so much about racial reparation but about how the writer feels that he’s a victim by AA Christians’ campaign and how Christians are People of Second Chances.  Then, I read further about Mark Driscoll’s recent emergent (notice I threw that word in there) with Hillsong who paints himself as a victim of hate campaign against him so soon after his disgraceful departure from the mess he found called Mars Hill.  One common bond between these narrative is the rhetorical victim switching.  Victim switching in a society of narcissism is big business for speaking opportunities if you’re famous.  The failure of all these people is the inability to see things from those whom they’ve wronged.  Surely, the backlash is harsh. I don’t believe anyone should call up Driscoll to threaten him or his family.  Neither should people threaten Mike Foster and all the rest of the insensitive crew who helped produce that awful spiritual book called Deadly Viper. But let’s face it, you aren’t really being persecuted when you’re making millions of dollars from your mistake. A few angry words aren’t hurting any of these men’s bank accounts.


The Good Samaritan story deserves a closer look because many modern privileged people don’t understand it. As a result, they also don’t practice it.  The question that prompted Jesus to tell the story was from an expert of the law who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  The story frequently gets interpreted in only one way: be a neighbor to another person.  Surely, this is a decent reading, but we fail to grasp the full significance in the story in several ways.  Jesus was answering a person of privilege in his society.  Jesus was also answering the question about the identity of the neighbor.  Who then experienced the answer to “Who is my neighbor?”  It was the victim of the robbery.  He was the only person who could tell who the neighbor was.  Here’s the thing.  We often miss the ironic twist of Jesus because he was telling the law teacher who was privileged to stoop down just a bit not so much to relate to the powerful religious teachers who passed by but to relate to the powerless victim who experienced the kindness of the “other”, the Samaritan.


The dire failure in our society AND in our churches is our inability to relate to the point of view of the other.  As a result, we also fail to identity who our true neighbor is.  Instead, we like to think of our true neighbors as those who agree with our convictions and share our same background (whether that background is race, gender or social economic class).  Those who share our background is no more a neighbor as the religious leaders to the injured man. Instead, in a surprising and subversive twist, Jesus stated that the true neighbor was the Samaritan who had nothing in common with the injured man (presumably a Jew coming out of Jerusalem. Who else would be coming out of Jerusalem).  If our faith community leaders also want to use their privileged position to do victim switching in order to further their own agenda, they’re no better than those who walked by the injured man. At most, they suffer minor damage due to their own stupidity. A minor setback in reputation (with no sincere apology) and a little lost book revenue are nothing in comparison to the systemic prejudice that existed within the system they lead.  This is the modern failure to read Jesus’ parable properly and follow Jesus command precisely.


Make no mistake about it.  When we look at the cases I just talked about, these people are privileged.  Mike Foster and his white blogger who supported him are privileged because of their skin color.  Why are they privileged?  Instead of letting their repentance sink in, they can take their trespasses against the Asian American brothers and sisters and turn them into their business of speaking tour and a book called Freeway.  Driscoll is privileged simply because he’s got a worldwide audience and sold books as well as built a speaking circuit for millions of dollars of profit.  Anyone who can turn his trespasses and not repent but instead turn them into another money-making opportunity is privileged.  Privilege is when you can afford not to see stuff from the other side of the coin and everything would still be fine and profitable.  Jesus was talking to a privileged person when he spoke about the Good Samaritan.  That’s the aspect many interpreters fail to grasp.  Perhaps, Jesus’ admonition to the teacher of the law needs a renewed look for the modern privileged because Jesus was saying that as a privileged person, he couldn’t afford not to see things from a victim’s point of view unless he wanted to skip over who he real neighbor was, the Samaritan.  Privilege is a problem when you don’t think something is a problem because it is a not problem to you PERSONALLY.

Christian Getting Tattoos, Piercings and Other Silly Controversies VII: But not every scriptural quotation is beneficial


Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive.    1 Corinthians 10.23


This is the last of the series on silly controversies in the church, sparked off by a discussion on someone’s Facebook on tattoos and piercings (along with smoking and drinking).  As a matter of review, we’ve dealt with the following six silly objections thus far. First, someone would say, “I don’t like it. Therefore it’s wrong.”  Second, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel. The problem is why someone is getting ink.”  Third, “the body is the temple of God. By inking it, the owner shows disrespect towards God’s creation.”  Fourth, “someone may stumble.” Fifth, “the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible says that getting tats is wrong.” Sixth, “It’s a cultural problem … you don’t understand what tattoos and piercings mean in our culture.”  We have now come to our seventh objection, “Everything is permissible–but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible–but not everything is constructive.”


This is a common (mis)quotation of 1 Corinthians 10.23 that seems to be the magical key to cover all controversial issues, often by someone who wants to forbid a certain practice in church, no matter what that practice is.


This is yet one ore perfect sample text for a book on exegetical fallacies. Since I didn’t deal with it in my Right Texts, Wrong Meanings book, I will deal with it here to demonstrate the utter absurdity of using scripture in this way.


1 Corinthians 10.23a “Everything is permissible” is often viewed (correctly) by scholars to be the voice of the agitators in Corinth. Therefore, the NIV translation puts it in quotation marks. What is everything being permissible? Within context, Paul was talking about Old Testament food laws that might have caused confusion among his converts. Certainly, none of the food was sinful in itself, but the ones used in the pagan temple ceremony where participation in the ritual occurred (10.18-20). As a result, the situation causes further confusion in the table of the Lord’s Supper (10.21).


The vocabulary of the wider context deserves examination. 1 Corinthians 8.1, 4, 7, and 10.19 provide the context because the “food sacrificed to idols” literally translates “idol meat”. The same word occurs in 10.28 has a different word “offered in sacrifice” to describe the food eaten. The word can be translated “set apart thing” or “sacred thing”. Most likely, the meat here that was set apart was sold. On the one hand, just prior to the 10.23 quote, 10.19 talks of meat that was part of the temple meal. The same meat required participation in temple ceremony in order to eat. Would that be ideal? Paul said, “No.” On the other hand, the imaginary dialogue partner refuted Paul by saying, “Everything is permissible.”


So, Paul used a different vocabulary that follows 10.23 that shows not the stuff in the temple that required participation but stuff that was possibly sold from the temple for profit in the marketplace. In order to understand the issue, we must understand the background. In the marketplace, the top grade meat ought to have come out of the temple. Due to the excessive amount of meat, the temple would sell its meat to the market to make more money. Of course, the grade of meat sold out to the market was very good. Whenever someone wanted to throw a banquet, he would go to the market and pick out the meat. As a matter of courtesy, he would pick out good meat. The problem remains however that no one could tell whether the meat had been used in the temple or not.  The safest bet of course was to take the extreme measure of being a vegetarian but no one threw a vegetarian banquet.  This was the situation of 10.23ff. The whole situation created a realistic and awkward moment for Paul’s congregation. Within context, the congregation also had regular banquet fellowship where the Lord’s Supper was part of the procedures (cf. 11.17-22, 33). Now, the church could well get the meat without asking too many questions and she was certainly free to do so. A good piece of meat surely didn’t have the magical power to curse the eater.


Now, the issue becomes complicated when the believer got invited by an unbeliever to eat. That was the situation of 10.23-11.1. The freedom to eat would cause someone with a bad conscience to think that the church community meal was similar to that of the temple (10.27-29). In other words, the participant at the unbeliever’s banquet was so fixated in his mind that eating this meat was the same as worshipping false gods that no explanation would do other than total refrain from eating the meat. In other words, the central core teaching of monotheism was at stark due to misunderstanding. As a result, Paul advised restraint from eating the meat.


Three issues surface. First, the situation directly relates to worshipping false gods. Second, the situation directly relates to a problem of causing others to misunderstand the central belief of the faith. So, when Paul said to eat and drink to the glory of God in 10.31, he meant that the believer ought not to cause others to stumble in their understanding of what the true faith was. This was not a mere case of sacrificing for the gospel without understanding what the core belief of the gospel. This sacrifice directly related to the core belief.


As my last six blog posts in the series demonstrate, tattoos, piercings, smoking and drinking aren’t part of the core belief of Christian faith. No monotheistic belief was violated. No morality was compromised. Even if someone disagrees with me on the exact situation Paul was addressing, tattoos, piercings, smoking and drinking cant’ fit in there. By fitting them in there, we’re trivializing Paul’s gospel and his main concern. Some people may not like it, but my exact understanding of the context of 1 Corinthians 10.23 is what the church needs. People shouldn’t quote something out of context so that they can abuse the power of scripture as a weapon against others. This is not what the church should do. So, rather than being careful of WHAT you quote, be careful HOW you quote!


After the demonstration of the utter fallacy of misquoting 1 Corinthians 10.23, I will say that the problem is never scripture.  The interpreter of scripture is often the problem.  A quote to apply in any situation is also an interpretation because not every situation fits that quote. The frequent hijacking and raping of scripture should stop, especially in churches that assert that they respect the authority of the Bible. The ones who claim to have the most respect often show the least.

Christian Getting Tattoos, Piercings and Other Silly Controversies VI: the Bursting of the Religious Bubble



This is the sixth installment of the blog posts on silly Christian controversies using something as harmless as tattoos and earrings as example, simply because some Christians get so obsessed by them.

Here’s an excerpt from the book China Rich Girlfriend: ‘Eleanor sidled up to Astrid and began her commentary, “The only thing missing from that service was a good Methodist pastor. Where is Tony Chin when you need him? I didn’t really care for that … minister. Did you see he was waring an earring? What sort of … minister is he?”‘ Sounds familiar? This is funny considering the fact that even a non-Christian author knows about Christian hangups. 

As a matter of review, we have done posts so far of the following questions. First, someone would say, “I don’t like it. Therefore it’s wrong.”  Second, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel. The problem is why someone is getting ink.”  Third, “the body is the temple of God. By inking it, the owner shows disrespect towards God’s creation.”  Fourth, “someone may stumble.” Fifth, “the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible says that getting tats is wrong.” Today, we come to the sixth objection about tattoos and piercings, “It’s a cultural problem … you don’t understand what tattoos and piercings mean in our culture.”

“It’s a cultural problem…” is yet another magical key used by the church police to regulate neutral behaviors in the church. Culture, first of all, is shifting sand. It means different things for different people. For the present objectors, culture probably means a set of acceptable beliefs and practices. Acceptable for what and to whom?

The objector assumes that everyone shares his culture and this is precisely where the objection goes badly wrong. We don’t all share the same cultural assumptions. For instance, tattoos were once used in the Roman times to show the mark of owners on slaves (like the modern way of branding cattle), but we’ve moved on since. For some in Asia (e.g., the Yakuza’s), tattoos are similar to gang clothing here in the US (though some US gang members also sport certain tattoos), but that has definitely changed. If we walk into many MMA gym, you’d find more fighters with ink than not. Gang tattoos in many cases have become a thing of the past.

In the case of earring, the cultural implications are as varied as tattoos. Deuteronomy 15.17 tells us that when a slave wanted to work for a master even though he’s freed, he could choose to pierce his ear and show that loyalty. The slave could then work as a freedman for the master. In ancient Egypt, both men and women wore earrings. Earring has also a very complicated set of interpretations in modern world. For instance, when I got my ear pierced, one young person suggested that I ought do both ears. When I was growing up, heterosexual men only wore earring on the left side. However, these days, no less a mega star than David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo wear them on both ears. We have no doubt about these men’s sexual orientation (this, of course, isn’t my homophobic statement). The point of the matter is, culture shifts and changes faster than ever. Someone remarked to me once, “I wonder whether Christians know how stupid they look to the outside world.” My reply would be, “I wonder whether Christians know that there’s an outside world.” In theory, they know, but in practice, not so much.

The problem of tattoos and earrings, if we put the problem in pastoral term, is that the church can’t understand culture. Neither is the average Christian a competent interpreter of culture. As incompetent interpreters of culture, we’re yet so quick to use “culture” as an excuse to prohibit the action of other people. The controversy, if we can even call it a controversy, exposes the church’s culturally unaware biases. Quite often, the church exists in a bubble and a time warp, while the rest of the world passes us by. This is tragic. Thus, before we prohibit other people from certain action, maybe we would best examine whether we interpret such action correctly instead of shoehorning out own grid on the matter. How can the church reach out to the field, if she thinks the field is a minefield?

Someone once said something along the line of “the problem isn’t whether we can but whether we should.” I think no matter whether we can or we should, I believe we all “should” think hard about the logic of our philosophy and read hard the scripture on which we base our faith before spouting off our “wisdom” on a fellow believer. THAT we should do. For the page image today, I deliberately set it to the photo of my earring along with my Hugo Boss suit.  Can I? Should I? I can and should.

Back to China Rich Girlfriend, I must spoil the story by saying that Eleanor, the one who complained about the earring on a minister, is an insufferable schemer. If that’s the kind of culture we offend with tattoos and earrings, the offense isn’t so bad then. The bigger question becomes, “When someone comes into my church, does s/he find the Insufferable Schemer Club or a loving community?”

Christians Getting Tattoos, Piercings and Other Silly Controversies V


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This blog continues on the silliness of Christian controversies. The best place to look at the way Christians talk about tattoos is always the way they quote scripture because after all, scripture SEEMS to be the foundation for Christian practice. I said “seems” because honestly, what is apparent versus what is real is farther than a country mile.



The objections, by the way of review of previous blogs, are. First, someone would say, “I don’t like it. Therefore it’s wrong.”  Second, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel. The problem is why someone is getting ink.”  Third, “the body is the temple of God. By inking it, the owner shows disrespect towards God’s creation.”  Fourth, “someone may stumble.” Today, I deal with the fifth objection, “the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible says that getting tats is wrong.”



Getting the right outfit is always a challenge for me when I go out to speak. Why not? My biggest concern of course is whether my clothing matches. My other concern of course is whether through the course of the conference whether I can mix and match the right combination while minimizing luggage load. What does this have to do with Christian tattoos and piercing? Stay tuned.



Let’s see what the OT (aka the Hebrew Bible) actually says about the matter of tattoos. Leviticus 19.28 is a typical quote. It says, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” We know what it says, but what did it mean?




The cutting usually have to do with pagan mourning rituals. Surely, mourning via throwing of ashes on one’s head was allowed, but not cutting. The context of Leviticus 19.28 was in terms of worship. The verses that follow seem to talk about ritual prostitution as well. Thus, the best guess of all this discussion about body must be about pagan rituals. So such things apply to our lives today? If one says yes, then we must also apply the previous context about mixed breeding and mixed seeding. Sure, there are verses in the context that we consider relevant today such as honoring parents, but that’s because honoring parents have been repeated in NT teachings. The teaching about the body isn’t. Neither is the teaching about mixed fabric clothing.


Is the above discussion a bit silly? Yes. Those who quote Leviticus should make sure they wear clothing that is 100% cotton or they’d be in grave danger.



As I often say, scripture isn’t the problem, but its interpreters are. Make sure you check your clothing material label before buying next time just in case …By the way, for my image of this blog, I posed a picture of me in my Italian cotton sharkskin suit just in case anyone wants to check on whether my clothing is kosher. The shoes are also 100% Italian leather just in case… It’s silly, I know.

Christians Getting Tattoos, Piercings and Other Silly Controversies IV: Stumblers beware?


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This is part of a series of blog posts about silly controversies and the logical objections against certain practices. The ongoing debates about many such issues just demonstrate the utter biblical and theological illiteracy of many evangelical Christians.


Let me review the usual answers thus far, and I had already dealt with three of them in previous posts.  First, someone would say, “I don’t like it. Therefore it’s wrong.”  Second, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel. The problem is why someone is getting ink.”  Third, “the body is the temple of God. By inking it, the owner shows disrespect towards God’s creation.”  Today, we deal with the fourth objection, “someone may stumble.” Oh, gasp!


One conservative evangelical pastor was preaching one day, and afterwards, a listener told him that his tie had distracted him from his listening experience simply because of the fancy patterns. The preacher never wore that tie again in fear of stumbling someone who’s trying to listen to his sermon. This logic is alive and well.


“Someone may stumble” is the magical key that stops everyone from doing anything you don’t want him/her to do in a church setting. It’s a phrase the denote unspiritual disposition of the accused, albeit without trial of scripture or common logic. It’s a phrase that is bound to cause the ignorant to be completely paralyzed in fear, unless you aren’t ignorant. It’s the weapon of choice for the church police. Well, I hope my readers aren’t ignorant when it comes to this idea of stumbling.


In the NT, the Greek word for “stumble” is where we get our word “scandal” from, but it doesn’t have the same meaning. Although some usages seem to point towards a “positive” aspect to this word, let’s look at some cases of negative usage of that word before looking at the positive aspects. My list is brief and space doesn’t permit me to deal with each passage in exegetical details. Anyone interested in exegetical details can either read my books or other scholars’ commentaries.


The most negative usage of this word “stumbling” in the Greek language has to do with deliberately setting a trap, but there’re other less negative usages. In Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 13.41, 16.23, and 18.7, the word denotes something that causes sin or causing the messianic mission to fail (i.e., the failure to go to the cross). In Paul, the word could denote a kind of blindness to truth (Romans 9.33) possibly even caused by God (Romans 11.9). Hmmm, God caused stumbling? Wow, that’s a novel thought, no? In Paul’s ethical teachings in Romans 14.13, the word could mean that certain action would cause a fellow believer to sin in a religious and ritual manner (e.g., food laws) or falling on bad doctrines (Romans 16.17-18). In order for such a stumbling to happen, REAL (and NOT imaginary) sins and weaknesses had to exist first.


Contrary to popular Christian preaching (gosh, how I despise so much of what passes for popular preaching), stumbling can be less negative where the responsibility doesn’t fall on the one who causes stumbling but on the one who stumbles. Paul had stated in 1 Corinthians 1.23 that the gospel could be a stumbling block. The cross indeed was a stumbling block (Galatians 5.11).  In Peter’s letter, Jesus himself became the stumbling block in his mission because of the offense he caused (1 Peter 2.8). I’m by no means comparing all the people with tattoos and earrings to Jesus, but it is not enough to just appeal to stumbling as a principle to stop people from doing so. The problem isn’t whether stumbling happened, but what kind of stumbling happened and whose responsibility the stumbling is.


I recall meeting with leaders of this one conference who were extremely distressed by my earring. In desperation to get me to take it off, one pastor (poor guy) uttered the above magical phrase, “Someone may stumble.” Certainly, IF my wearing an earring or someone sporting a tattoo would cause someone to sin by falling into false doctrines or sexual immorality (really? Do I even need to go there? Do women ACTUALLY lust MORE towards guys with earrings and tattoos? Some are even concerned about my bald head.), the problem shouldn’t be ink or earring.  The problem ought to be solved by either psychologists or at least a heavy dose of pastoral counseling. That, in fact, was what I told the distressed pastor.


Well, in light of the above brief study, perhaps a bit of positive stumbling is what we need because I’m fairly sure no one was being prevented from going to the cross.  Perhaps an indignant person (or perhaps that pastor himself) ought to do a bit of positive stumbling and then examine why such a trivial matter becomes an essential of the gospel. The church doesn’t have enough positive stumbling these days.  Maybe someone’s tattoo or my earring had inadvertently become a kind of avant-garde performing art as part of our gospel preaching!  If my earring or someone else’s ink causes some positive stumbling, thank God! Maybe after the hypocrites pick themselves off the floor, they can do a little thinking with their Christian minds.


As I always say, scripture is not the problem but the interpreter often is. Many interpretations are possible but not all interpretations are beneficial!  As for that evangelical preacher with that fancy tie at the beginning of the sermon, I suggest that he goes tie-less next time. That would eliminate all the problems. Oh, wait! Maybe that won’t because surely someone will fault him for NOT wearing a tie and “stumbling” someone else in the process of listening. With knit-picking hypocrites in church, you simply can’t win. Church life can be a dog-eat-dog world!



Christians Getting Tattoos, Piercings and Other Silly Controversies III: Why can’t Paul say what I want him to say?


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This is part of the blog series on silly controversies that really shouldn’t occupy our energy, but Christians occupy so much of their energy debating them that such topics deserve a series.  Almost all such controversies boil down to the simple objections below.


As a matter of review from last week’s blog, the Christian response to tattoos, piercings and other fashion controversies are as follows.  First, someone would say, “I don’t like it. Therefore it’s wrong.”  Second, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel. The problem is why someone is getting ink.”  Third, “the body is the temple of God. By inking it, the owner shows disrespect towards God’s creation.”  This week I will deal with the third objection.


Usually silly Christians would quote 1 Corinthians 6.12-20 at me.


12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.


Quite often they would compare smoking cigarets or cigars are parallel examples. The problem is both exegetical and logical.  First, the exegetical problem.


In the chapter 16 of my book, Right Texts, Wrong Meanings, I’ve dealt with this passage extensively, but I’ll apply it to the present situation. By the way of exegetical observation, 6.15 reads, “Do you know that your bodies (plural) are (should be “is” in singular) members (plural) of Christ himself?” The plural combined with singular has much to do with how each member affects the overall health of the Body of Christ. 6.19 reads, “Do you (plural) not know that your (plural) Body (singular) is a temple (singular) of the Holy Spirit, who is in  you (plural), whom you (plural)  have received from God?” The combination of the plural and singular here goes further than the affect the action of one’s body has on the Body of Christ, but the singular “body” here points to the Body of Christ being the singular temple. The whole idea that each individual Christian being a temple is total nonsense. No Christian individual is a temple. It’s the combined church Body that is the temple. So, before arguing this or that, silly Christians ought to read their Bibles (or necessarily have their pastors who know Greek explain to them the intricacies) first before quoting the text. Yet another example of using the text to further one’s morally hygienic ideology!


Now to the context! 1 Corinthians context deals with the situation of Corinth where one problem exists in its various forms.  1 Corinthians, at the start tells us that there’s division in the church. Thus, unity was the problem. Now, what causes disunity? Surely, not all causes of disunity are bad. For instance, Paul’s letter to the Galatians clearly told the Galatians to separate from the agitators! No, unity isn’t the absolute good. Paul in 1 Corinthians showed various illegitimate causes for disunity. One of them was having sex with prostitutes in 1 Corinthians 6.15-17. But Christians are just THIS silly in misquoting the passage and inadvertently equating tattoos, piercings, smoking and drinking with soliciting a prostitute. A little silliness isn’t harmless. A little silliness makes light of a very serious issue of degrading another human being (i.e., prostitution) via the vehicle of sexual objectification.


It almost sounds silly, but I think my approach to Scriptures is more conservative than many so-called conservative Christians. Sadly, the problem doesn’t end there. Let’s, for argument’s sake, say that the logic of “not harming my own body via tattoos and piercing or even smoking because the individual Christian body is God’s temple” is true. Let’s examine the utter lack of logic of such claimants.  Most people eat three meals a day. Most people eat less than optimal when it comes to sound nutrition. In Asia, there’s also the bad habit of midnight snacking. This is very true for many. In the US, there’s the habit of eating chips in front of prime time TV. All these habits do horrible harm to the body. If you’re an Asian reader and you love to eat rice, do you know that white rice does great harm to the body? How about quit eating rice? Most of us could lose a few pounds or could lose our skinny fat dad bod’s (even for young folks). I can put people on a weight training program with good diet and cardio to help them achieve their physical shape. Why don’t Christians denounce the lack of exercise in their preaching and their writings? I’ve yet to see anyone using the above logic to denounce such habits. Maybe I ought to start blogging about eating more vegetables and less McDonald’s while getting rid of white rice from our diet.  Maybe we should stipulate this or that diet for Christians to make sure they take care of their precious little temples, but we don’t. Why tattoos? Why piercings? (Certainly, my ear is fine and I’m doing great health-wise) Why those? Is it merely because we don’t like tattoos and piercings and want to use the Bible to bully those who do?


As I always say, Scripture is never the problem. Its interpreters are! Many interpretations are possible, but not every application is constructive!

Christians Getting Tattoos, Piercings and Other Silly Controversies II: the Christian Fetish for Self-Justification


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Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive.    1 Corinthians 10.23



As a matter of review from last week’s blog (inspired by some needlessly heated and tangential debates on one of my friend’s Facebook updates), the Christian response to tattoos, piercings and other fashion controversies are as follows.  First, someone would say, “I don’t like it. Therefore it’s wrong.”  This is what I call “preference legalism” which has the mentality of “I prefer this lifestyle and if you don’t follow my preference, you’re certainly not spiritual enough.”  It is also a kind of idolatry towards one’s own preference. The second objection to tattoos, piercings and other silly things is, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel. Why else would someone be getting inked.”



This week, I’ll deal with the second objection, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel.” My future blog posts will deal with the other ones. This second objection makes zero logical sense, not even in our everyday living.  Tattoos and piercings are fashion statements.  Do we ever get up everyday to go to work and ask, “Which tie should I wear so that I can dress for the gospel?” We don’t. Neither do we put shoes or suits on while asking the same questions.  Neither do we do most things asking the same question.



I recall people first hearing about my shaved head and earring. The ill-intentioned homophobes would question my sexual orientation (no, I’m not gay. I love my pretty and elegant wife) or whether I had switched ministry direction by working with homosexuals (nope, haven’t felt the same call as some of my other friends). Well-meaning people began to ask (behind my back of course), whether I’m having a mid-life crisis or some other unpleasant experience. I assure everyone I’m not. I love my life. I’ve pretty much accomplished everything I had set out to do professionally. I enjoy my family, and I feel that I married well. When I told them that I just like to change my fashion around, many seem puzzled (of course I have other reasons for sporting this look, but this is not the place to explain that). Do I really need to give reason for changing what color, what brand or what material of suits I wear? Nope!



This leads to the more basic question, “Why do Christians have to justify certain things that are neutral?” Isn’t just living our lives (and not acting like holy roller weirdo’s) enough for expressing the gospel? Why do we have to justify neutral things?  It is because by justifying, we feel holier than everyone else who doesn’t justify himself. This is Christian self-rightesouness at its best. WE’RE OBSESSED ABOUT SUCH SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS because we want to appear better than everyone else, but we aren’t. Someone might object, “Everything we do is for the gospel and for the glory of God.” Oh, okay, would that include trivializing the gospel in such a way?  Would that include saying that the gospel is more about what God did than what we did while contradicting ourselves with a focus on what we do or don’t do? I would settle for Christians glorifying God by not being anal retentive on such trivial matters because such misplaced focus takes away rather than enhance God’s glory and the gospel.



Many who observe this phenomenon compare such people to the caricature Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who states in Luke 18.11-12, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (NIV). I propose that the people we see are much worse than this caricature. The Pharisee had reason to brag because he was talking about real righteousness and real sins here. He just didn’t have the right to brag before God. What we’re talking about with people who harp on silliness isn’t really about real righteousness or sin.  It’s bragging about trivial personal preference, and THIS is precisely what’s wrong with evangelical Christianity. Trivia!



The trouble with such controversies is that it’s all about how the objector feels.  It’s all about the good or bad feeling my fashion sense makes someone feels.  It’s as if all the objectors’ feelings are the very content of the gospel.  It’s as if the objector’s feeling is so fragile that a mere change of fashion would totally offend or crumble that fragile feeling. The faith community then becomes a therapeutic place for those who really NEED to feel good because they have unshakeable egos and wobbly feelings. I’m not talking about real mental patients here. I’m talking about those whose feelings get bunched up in a  wad just because someone does something they don’t like.  The faith community isn’t the place for such dysfunctional therapy for those who feel that they’re healthier than everyone else while they themselves personify narcissism.  Somehow such people also feel that they’ve got the god-given right to intrude on how everyone else lives.  They’ve become the fashion police of the church. One of my preacher friends compare them to the Judaizers (or whatever name you wish to name them) in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I think that’s an insult to the Judaizers.  At least they had real debates about scriptural things with Paul. In the present scenario, they’re basing their own moral foundation out of their overactive and legalistic imagination that isn’t even from the Bible. By living according to their preference, somehow they make other people’s preference unholy, thus making themselves holier than everyone else.



Someone asks me whether I pierce my ear for a reason, implying it must be for the gospel. I can answer in a few ways. What if I choose NOT to answer? What if I have no reason other than to look cool? What if I have the same reason as I give for putting on a pair of True Religion jeans (notice I cleverly slip in the word “religion” in there?)? Does that make me less Christian or less spiritual?  The need to justify ourselves indicates that we have this huge need for self-righteousness.  The answer to such question indicates more about how far we’ve drifted from the gospel than why I wear an earring (By the way, my wife loves the hoop earring on me as pictured more than the shiny stud. What do you think?). I always see my earring as the mirror to bring out all the dysfunctional Christians instantaneously, because this sort of triviality makes Christians look petty and stupid, but I’m guessing a lot of Christians who seriously debate the issue don’t notice. Those who won’t invite me to speak because of a piece of rock in my ear probably won’t be ready to listen to my message anyway.  From the discussions with many people and watching the debate among some, I propose that many hardly understand what it means to be spiritual or even to be Christian any more in our faith community.

Christians Getting Tattoo, Piercings and Other Silly Controversies I: My preference should be the only preference?

Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive.    1 Corinthians 10.23

Recently, I’ve seen on a friend’s Facebook about a former gang member turned preacher.  This preacher has tats. The conversation soon drifts to whether Christian should get ink or not. As soon as I saw the topic, I know all the crazies would crawl out of the woodworks. And sure enough, I was right.

Before I can say “boo”, someone quotes 1 Corinthians 10.23.  In the next series of blogs, I’m going to talk the common logic and tact Christians use when dealing with stuff they perceive to be “wrong” (for them). In so doing, we will see that our average Christian is ill-equipped in theology, biblical interpretation, biblical literacy and ethics.  I suppose with a failure in all the aforementioned areas, I wonder if Christians can deal with any real life situation at all or whether they’re still living in a spiritual ivory tower.  My conclusion from just looking at some of the responses is that faith and culture won’t connect any time soon, especially among certain conservative circles of evangelicals.

When running into such controversies, the Christian response takes on the following forms. First, someone would say, “I don’t like it. Therefore it’s wrong.”  I’ve literally seen this silly response.  Second, “Maybe he’s doing it for the gospel. The problem is why someone is getting ink.”  Third, “the body is the temple of God. By inking it, the owner shows disrespect towards God’s creation.”  Fourth, “someone may stumble.” Fifth, “the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible says that getting tats is wrong.” Sixth, “It’s a cultural problem … you don’t understand what tattoos and piercings mean in our culture.”  Seventh, “Everything is permissible–but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible–but not everything is constructive.”

Since getting my earring, I’ve literally heard every single objection above.  How would one respond to them? I will write a series of blog posts dealing with each kind of objection.

In this blog, I’ll start with the first one, “I don’t like it. Therefore, it’s wrong.”  I start with this apparently silly objection to ease my readers into bigger issues in my coming blog posts in this series. The problem with this silly answer is that it really is more profound than stupid.  I believe this is the very root of objections and we’ll come back to this. Let’s face it, piercings and tats on men aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, whether you’re Christian or not. That’s a fact.  “I don’t like it” is a perfectly fine response to something that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Yet, there’s something entirely wrong and unChristian about such a sentiment because of the second part, “Therefore, it is wrong.”  Who is to say that WE get to decide what is right or wrong for our brothers and sisters on things as trivial and cultural as piercings and ink?  I appreciate this frank objection simply because it’s the honest objection that underlies the other five objections, but honesty doesn’t make it right.  To object in such a way makes the objector himself “God”. Whoever among us can take such a high and mighty place?  I dare say, “No one.”

Troubles these days is that many Christians think they speak for God, but they don’t. Many think that they’re the moral police, except no one cares about their law enforcement.

The Rich Man and the Lazarus in Luke 16: a Conversation with Short Stories by Jesus


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We have now come to the story of the rich man and Lazarus story in chapter nine in Levine’s Short Stories by Jesus. This chapter is one of Levine’s best chapters. She first talks about the tension of whether or not to read eschatology into the parable. She leans on the side of reading the parable both eschatologically and economically.


I agree with Levine that the parable IS about economy as well as eschatology, though the detail of sitting at the side of Abraham was probably symbolic of being a friend or child of Abraham. Was the rich man moral or immoral? Was he deserving of being sent down to eternal punishment? These are the questions Levine attempts to answer.


In agreement with her, I would say that the man was immoral in his failure to give to the poor man. His privileged position allowed him to order Lazarus around to be sent back to his family even in the afterlife. Obviously, this is a hypothetical situation to illustrate his callousness. Was he deserving to be sent to eternal punishment? Of course, that’s why the parable has him down there. This may not sit well with our theological sensibilities but Jesus isn’t about fitting our grid.


One important observation she makes is about indifference. The rich man didn’t hate Lazarus. He just didn’t pay attention enough to even muster up sympathy. That is the real tragedy. While the Bible SEEMS to be against riches, at the end, this parable seems to indicate that the Bible is against apathy. Those who love money like the Pharisees who sneered at Jesus in Luke 16.14, had to be apathetic to the wealth all around in order to love money that much.


Levine writes movingly, “Some people, we learn, will never change. They condemn themselves to damnation even as their actions condemn other to poverty… the parable also asks about what the average person should do… Do we dream of the rich man’s clothes and food? Do we fear becoming destitute? The parable interrogates our priorities as well…Ironically, what the rich man asked Lazarus to do – to warn his brothers of the threat of hell – the parable does for the readers.”


Matthew 20 and Fairness?: a Conversation with Short Stories by Jesus



We shall continue to explore Levine’s Short Stories by Jesus. Levine turns to the topic from Matthew 20 in chapter seven. This story is a puzzle because none of it has anything to do with normal operation of a farm.



Levine in her usual humorous style calls this the parable of the complaining day laborer or the parable of the surprise salaries. She starts by taking apart the anti-Jewish reading that typifies the owner to be God and the early workers to be Jews and later workers to be gentiles. This is one common interpretation based more on ideology than exegesis. Some go further to suggest that the last hired are the rejects like those who were poor and oppressed. Levine also points out that today many see the potential to read this parable as part of the practical social problem of labor. The parable has every potential to denounce unfair labor practice or so thinks the new crop of revisionist readers.



There’s much agreement between Levine and me. One consistent method she uses is a careful reading of symbolism. She claims that not every master can represent God, and I tend to agree. We simply can’t make the unfair master God. It’s already a strange enough story without the master being God. There’re also places where I disagree with Levine. She points out that the workers were at fault for denying the last crop of workers a living wage. The generosity of the owner than became exemplary. Without a doubt, I agree that the owner at least claimed to be generous. In her collection of evidence, Levine shows that impressively such an outcome was entirely possible in Galilean life of Jesus’ day. Now, even if this were typical, I don’t think it was fair which was the point of the complaint by the workers. I also see Levine struggling to not make the owner symbolic of God while trying to say that he’s analogous of God. In this way, the generous owner (analogous of God) was a role model for the rich. His equal treatment for all the workers and his unexpected generosity (or grace) set a standard for other rich people of Jesus’ day. So Levine claims.



Levine’s focus is clearly on the workers and I think she’s right, but is the role modeling for the rich really Jesus’ purpose? I do not think so. Matthew 20.1 starts with “for” which explains what went on before when the explicit audience was Peter and not the elite or the rich. Jesus was explaining to Peter what it meant to follow him and Peter responded by talking about rewards. The parable addresses directly Peter’s concern by asking Peter to identify with those who worked in the vineyard.



To me, interpretations that don’t address Peter’s concern won’t be right. I’ll deal with this in greater details in my Right Kingdom, Wrong Stories book. For those who are interested, they can purchase or borrow the book. I’ve also addressed this in one of my lectures for the Faith in Practice Lectureship in HK Baptist University. The lectures can be purchased through the university chaplain’s office.



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